21 December 2014

Review: MURDER UNDERGROUND, Mavis Doriel Hay


  • format: Kindle (Amazon)- I bought it
  • File Size: 1558 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: British Library Publishing Division (March 20, 2014) - first published 1934
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00J5OU43U
Synopsis (Amazon)

When Miss Pongleton is found murdered on the stairs of Belsize Park station, her fellow-boarders in the Frampton Hotel are not overwhelmed with grief at the death of a tiresome old woman. But they all have their theories about the identity of the murderer, and help to unravel the mystery of who killed the wealthy ‘Pongle’. Several of her fellow residents – even Tuppy the terrier – have a part to play in the events that lead to a dramatic arrest.

This classic mystery novel is set in and around the Northern Line of the London Underground. It is now republished for the first time since the 1930s. Includes an introduction by Stephen Booth, award-winning crime writer.

My Take

The structure of this novel hinges on the two tenets of motive and opportunity and much of the plot focusses on constructing a timeline to show who was in the right place at the right time to commit the murder. This strategy wears a bit thin as the novel progresses.

Dorothy L. Sayers appears to have approved of it:
“This detective novel is much more than interesting. The numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail.”
(Dorothy L. Sayers Sunday Times)

For me, the victim's name, Euphemia Pongleton, feels like a joke that went wrong: something that was meant to amuse the reader but somehow doesn't. Miss Pongleton is found strangled, "lying like a heap of old clothes", half way down the circular staircase of Belsize Park station, with her dog's leash wrapped around her neck. Her nephew Basil actually discovers the body but, for a variety of reasons, is anxious to keep that fact hidden from the police investigation. He confides in the real murderer who doesn't become an obvious suspect until towards the end of the novel.

The author does allow a little humour to poke through every now and then, and there is some pleasure in extracting the truth from the muddle of characters and their motives for doing away with Miss Pongleton. There is also the tangle of a stolen broach, a missing string of pearls, and a missing will. All this lends a complexity to the plot which the author does well to untangle.

My rating: 4.0


About the author
Mavis Doriel Hay (1894–1979) published three detective novels in the 1930s that are now extremely rare. Hay’s The Santa Klaus Murder is also published by the British Library.

18 December 2014

Review: A FEARSOME DOUBT, Charles Todd - audio book

Synopsis (Audible)

In 1912 Ian Rutledge watched as a man was condemned to hang for the murders of elderly women. Rutledge helped gather the evidence that sent Ben Shaw to the gallows. And when justice was done, Rutledge closed the door on the case. But Shaw was not easily forgotten. Now, seven years later, that grim trial returns in the form of Ben Shaw's widow Nell, bringing Rutledge evidence she is convinced will prove her husband's innocence. It's a belief fraught with peril, threatening both Rutledge's professional stature and his faith in his judgment. But there is a darker reason for Rutledge's reluctance. Murder brings him back to Kent where, days earlier, he'd glimpsed an all-too-familiar face beyond the leaping flames of a bonfire. Soon an unexpected encounter revives the end of his own war, as the country prepares for a somber commemoration on the anniversary of the Armistice. To battle the unsettled past and the haunted present at the same time is an appalling mandate.

And the people around him - Among them the attractive widow of a friend, a remarkable woman who survived the Great Indian Mutiny; a bitter, dying barrister; and a man whose name he never knew - unwittingly compete with the grieving Nell Shaw. They'll demand more than Rutledge can give, unaware that he is already carrying the burden of shell shock, and the voice of Hamish MacLeod, the soldier he was forced to execute in the war. The killer in Marling is surprisingly adept at escaping detection. And Ben Shaw's past is a tangle of unsettling secrets that may or may not be true. Rutledge must walk a tortuous line between two murderers...one reaching out to ruin him, the other driven to destroy him.

My Take

If you are looking for some really authentic-feeling crime fiction based on the issues of  the social aftermath World War One, then here is a series for you. I haven't read them all, but I have in particular enjoyed the audio versions. Each of the titles seems to have a focus on an issue related to the War. The issues that emerge in  A FEARSOME DOUBT are the damage done to the survivors, whether physical as in the loss of a limb, or mental as in post traumatic stress or unresolved shell shock; another issue relates to those who profited by the war, while so many lost so much.

Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.8


I've also reviewed
A TEST OF WILLS -#1
SEARCH THE DARK -#3
A PALE HORSE -#10
4.5, A DUTY TO THE DEAD - Bess Crawford series
4.7, A LONELY DEATH -#13
4.6, THE CONFESSION - #14
4.7, HUNTING SHADOWS - #16

The full series according to Fantastic Fiction
1. A Test of Wills (1996)
2. Wings of Fire (1998)
3. Search the Dark (1999)
4. Legacy of the Dead (2000)
5. Watchers of Time (2001)
6. A Fearsome Doubt (2002)
7. A Cold Treachery (2005)
8. A Long Shadow (2006)
9. A False Mirror (2007)
10. A Pale Horse (2007)
11. A Matter of Justice (2008)
12. The Red Door (2009)
12.5. The Kidnapping (2010)
13. A Lonely Death (2011)
14. The Confession (2012)
15. Proof of Guilt (2013)
16. Hunting Shadows (2014)
16.5. Cold Comfort (2013)
17. A Fine Summer's Day (2015) 

Mystery Challenge completed


The A-Z Mystery Challenge was run at Red Headed Book Child for the calendar year of 2014.
I began my record page on 3 March and completed the final book on 17 Dec.

Mostly it was not hard to find books for the challenge but I have had to make conscious efforts in the last few weeks to locate titles for authors whose surnames begin with E, Y and X.

It is really is a bit of a variant of the Crime Fiction Alphabet challenge that I have run for the last few years.

The rules
  • A-Z represents the LAST name of the author in the mystery, thriller, suspense, cozy, noir, etc. genre. 
  • Read as many or as little as you want. 
  • Post your links here for your Challenge post and your reviews! 
  • Challenge Runs January 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014 
  • Have fun! 

Number of letters achieved: 26/26

17 December 2014

Review: ENIGMA OF CHINA, Qiu Xiaolong

  • published 2013  by St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN 978-1-250-02580-7
  • 277 pages
  • #8 in the Inspector Chen series
  • source: my local library
Synopsis (MacMillan)

Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department is in an unusual situation—a poet by training and inclination, he was assigned by the party to the Police Department after he graduated college, where he has continued to shine.  Now he’s a rising cadre in the party, in line to take over the top politic position in the police department, while being one of most respected policeman in the department. Which is why he’s brought in by the Party to sign off on the investigation into the death of Zhou Keng. 

Zhou Keng—a trusted princeling, son of a major party member—was head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee when a number of his corrupt practices were exposed on the internet.  Removed from his position and placed into extra-legal detention, Zhou apparently hanged himself while under guard.  While the Party is anxious to have Zhou’s death declared a suicide, and for the renowned Chief Inspector Chen to sign off on that conclusion, the sequence of events don’t quite add up. Now Chen will have to decide what to do – investigate the death as a possible homicide and risk angering unseen powerful people, or seek the justice that his position requires him to strive for.

My Take

ENIGMA OF CHINA is not just a murder mystery, but also an exploration of Chinese history and culture. It also explores the role, even in China, of social media, of crowd-sourced investigation, so-called "human-flesh" searches, triggered in this case by the release of a photograph of Zhou Keng with a pack of very expensive brand cigarettes sitting on the table in front of him. The irony does not escape Chief Inspector Chen who has also accepted gifts in kind from Big Bucks customers.

But in Zhou's case a number of other examples of corruption have been unearthed, including a batch of compromising sex photographs. But it still doesn't seem very likely that he would have committed suicide. Chen's curiosity is further piqued when a police colleague is run down and killed outside the Party newspaper headquarters. Chen realises that he could very well share Wei's fate if he doesn't tread carefully.

Xiaolong paints a fascinating picture of life in Shanghai with vast economic and social gulfs between ordinary people and those who have access to privelege.

My rating: 4.5

I've also reviewed 4.4, DEATH OF A RED HEROINE which won the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001.

About the author:
Qiu Xiaolong was born in Shanghai and, since 1988, has lived in St. Louis, Missouri. A poet and a translator, he has an MA and a Ph.D. from Washington University. He is the author of several previous novels featuring Inspector Chen, including the award-winning Death of a Red Heroine and A Case of Two Cities.

This is my final title for the 2014 A-Z Mystery Challenge

13 December 2014

Review: THE RULES OF THE GAME, Georges Simenon

  • originally published in 1955 as BOULE NOIR (my trans. Black Ball)
  • English translation published 1988
  • this large print edition published 1991 by Hamish Hamilton London
  • 212 pages
  • ISBN 1-85957-869-9
  • on loan from my local library
Synopsis (Amazon)

This title is set in suburban Connecticut. (After World War II, for reasons related to accusations that he was sympathetic to the occupying forces and the Vichy Regime, Simenon moved to the United States and spent a few years in Connecticut.)

Walter Higgins is a supermarket manager. He is a stolid, predictable, married father of four living in a house that stretches his economic resources to the fullest. He is also enormously (and understandably) proud of the fact that he has lifted himself through diligence and hard work from a less than happy and economically depressed childhood. He plays by the rules. He goes to church and volunteers in any number of community organizations. He seeks affirmation of his status by applying for membership in the local country club. He is told his membership is a sure-thing and is devastated when he is told that he has been blackballed, denied entry by means of a secret vote of the club's membership committee. Each member of that committee was known to Higgins and he thought of each as a friend and colleague in the community.

The rejection turns Higgins's life upside down and the rest of the story takes us on the journey Higgins takes as the trauma of rejection hits him.

My Take

Walter Higgins thinks he knows what life in suburban America is all about. He works for his community, attends church every Sunday, and tries to be a good role model. But his dreams are about to be shattered. His application to join the town's prestigious country club is blackballed for the second time and it seems all the town knows. This precipitates Walter into a mid-life crisis, where he thinks everyone must be laughing at him. And then, when his mother dies, he has to go back to the New York area where he grew up, and the effect is soul-shattering.

This novel is a reminder of the years that Simenon spent living in North America (1945-55). During this time he learnt to speak English with relative ease.  see Wikipedia entry.

It is also not a murder mystery, no Maigret, but a chance for Simenon to show his understanding of what makes ordinary people tick, whatever their nationality. It is also reminded me that I should make more effort to read more Simenon novels. Several have been re-printed as e-books this year and last by Penguin.

Another one for the Vintage Mystery Bingo 2014.

My rating: 4.4

See another review.

I've also reviewed
4.4, MAIGRET & the MAN on the BOULEVARD
4.5, MAIGRET & THE HEADLESS CORPSE
4.3, PIETR THE LATVIAN
THE LATE MONSIEUR GALLET

12 December 2014

Review: NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, James Hadley Chase

  • format: Amazon (Kindle)
  • I bought it
  • File Size: 346 KB
  • Print Length: 188 pages
  • Publisher: The Murder Room (September 6, 2012). Originally published 1939
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00946TPFC
Synopsis (Amazon)

When Dave Fenner is hired to solve the Blandish kidnapping, he knows the odds on finding the girl are against him - the cops are still looking for her three months after the ransom was paid. And the kidnappers, Riley and his gang, have disappeared into thin air.

But what none of them knows is that Riley himself has been wiped out by a rival gang - and the heiress is now in the hands of Ma Grisson and her son Slim, a vicious killer who can't stay away from women, especially his beautiful new captive. By the time Fenner begins to close in on them, some terrible things have happened to Miss Blandish . . .

My Take

James Hadley Chase was an English writer born René Lodge Brabazon Raymond and well known by various pseudonyms, including James Hadley Chase, James L. Docherty, Raymond Marshall, R. Raymond, and Ambrose Grant. See Wikipedia for more details.

NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH (publ. 1939) is set in the gangster era of the mid 1930s in Kansas, although Chase had never been there. It was his debut novel, and the beginning of a long and immensely successful career as a novelist. Dave Fenner appeared in a second novel in 1941. He is an ex-journalist turned private eye, and works with the "bulls" (police) to find Miss Blandish.

I thought it had a surprisingly modern feel about it although it is exceptionally noir, with an incredible amount of violence, which apparently drew considerable criticism at publication. It was indeed based on events and people who had gained notoriety in the early 1930s in America. I didn't expect the ending to have the twist that it had, and I thought that was a redeeming feature. A fast paced thriller.

My rating: 4.4

I read this as part of my participation in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge for 2014.

11 December 2014

Review: THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, Sara Blaedel

  • review e-copy provided at Net Galley by publisher Grand Central Publishing
  • translated by Signe Rod Golly
  • publication date Jan 7 2015
  • ISBN 9781455581528
Synopsis (Publisher)

In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick--the new commander of the Missing Persons Department--is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a "forgotten girl." 

But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago. As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed--and hidden--in the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed. 

My Take

The publisher's blurb probably tells the reader a little too much of the plot. In the story behind the mystery Louise Rick is trying to establish herself as the head of the new Missing Persons Department. She has been made many promises by her boss, but it appears he has made similar promises to others. She ends up having to work with Eik, who is someone she would not have chosen, and they don't get off to a very good start. Nor does it appear that her boss's secretary Hanne likes her very much either.

Louise finds herself carrying out the investigation in an area that she grew up in, where some people recognise her and know a little more about her background than she is comfortable with. There is more than one murder, and after the investigation begins another woman disappears while running in the forest.

The plot becomes intriguing as the story unravels, and strands go back decades.

My rating: 4.5


About the author

I've discovered that this is the 10th novel published by this relatively new Danish author.
EuroCrime lists four of them (see below) but the author's website, which describes her as "Denmark's Queen of Crime", shows she has been quite prolific, her first novel being published in 2004. Wikipedia.

Detective Inspector Louise Rick
Call Me Princess (apa Blue Blood)20112
• Only One Life20123
• Farewell to Freedom20124
• The Forgotten Girls20155

Explore her website

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